Here is an interesting story. Sometimes paper finds, or ephemera, happen in a serendipitous way. A friend bought a book at a recent Johannesburg monthly book auction at Westgate Walding. As he opened the title page, the document below fell out into his hand. Of course all sorts of things are used as bookmarks in old books – I have found bus, airline and parking tickets. There have also been pamphlets and city maps. I have even found out of date bank notes.
News broke recently that work on Africa’s tallest building has commenced (click here for details). Assuming it will be completed as designed, the Pinnacle in Nairobi Kenya will be 300m tall eclipsing the Carlton Centre by quite a margin. The fact that the Carlton has managed to hold the record of Africa’s tallest building for over four decades is remarkable.
Most commentaries on Johannesburg of the decade of the thirties takes 1936 and the city's fiftieth birthday as the year for reflection and anticipation. See, for example, the Star Newspaper's popular history, Like it Was. Johannesburg A Sunshine City Built on Gold (1931) is an unusual publication that takes us back to the start of the decade to discover Johannesburg.
South African mining photographs from as early as 1870 have been identified. These early diamond surface mining activity photographs were taken by Weber & Sederstrom at New Rush (Kimberley). When gold was found in Johannesburg some 14 years later (1884), it was initially not difficult to mine as the gold was found near the surface and prospectors had many laborers to assist them with the digging.
The news that the Ornico Group has moved its headquarters from a prime Sandton address to the Joburg CBD is making waves in heritage and property circles. Over the past year, the company has been refurbishing the historic Natal Bank Building and in recent weeks over 100 employees have moved in. This is a major psychological boost for the ongoing revival of the historic heart of Johannesburg.
Beautifully situated in the Heidelberg Kloof is the Kloof cemetery, the original and oldest cemetery of the town. In fact, the oldest grave goes back to before the town was established. I'd like to take you on a walk through the graves, picking up a specific grave stone here and there.
The town started with Heinrich Ueckermann, he set up the first trading store in what now is the town.
On 5 April 2017, Keith Martin, who heads up the heritage community in Modderfontein, unveiled the first two heritage plaques to be erected in the area. This was done in conjunction with the Thornhill Homeowners Association and under the auspices of Joburg Heritage. The plaques are positioned at significant sites within Thornhill Estate.
One site commemorates the first granite rocks to be quarried at Modderfontein. These are located on a specially built platform at 8 Brussels Ave.
We South Africans live in a polyglot society, which under our Constitution, has 11 official languages that “must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably”. Mother tongues range from Afrikaans to IsiZulu, from isiXhosa to Setswana, however to stop us being a modern Tower of Babel we largely use one language to communicate between each other and that is English. In doing so we are reflecting a world wide trend. In today’s world English has become the “Lingua Franca” replacing French as the language of diplomacy and German in the field of science.
Should one drive out of Johannesburg eastwards along the N12 highway, a famous landmark is passed at the Snake Road exit, known as Benoni’s mountain or more accurately the Kleinfontein Mine Dump. The Dump has been standing tall (92 metres) for over 90 years but will soon only be a memory as it is being reclaimed for the estimated 3 ½ tons of gold that it contains. For many it is an eyesore and good riddance, but others will be sad to see it go.
A few years ago, one of the oldest houses in Norwood faced a bleak future. The owners had spent little to nothing on maintenance over the years, rubbish was piling up and services had been disconnected. Developers began circling hoping to acquire the property for a bargain price. Illegal demolition appeared to be the most likely outcome at this stage.
A fountain built by Italian POWs who were interred at the nearby Zonderwater POW camp around 1943 has been moved from its original position to a new site in the garden of the McHardy House Museum in Cullinan.
The fountain was built in an area called Hallsdorp. The miners houses built in this area in the early part of the last century were demolished at the end of the Second World War. The area became derelict and the fountain was quickly forgotten.
Irene is a wonderful village located less than twenty kilometres south of Pretoria. Visitors can feel the history around them whether staying at a local hotel, visiting the Smuts House Museum or touring the working farm. Residents are proud of the area's rich history and rightly so! Below are a few edited passages revealing the early history of Irene Farm. A longer version of the article appeared in a 1961 edition of South African Panorama.
The Joburg skyline (or at least hints of it) can be viewed from hundreds of places around the city. There are some spots that provide such an exceptional view and experience that they must be shared. City enthusiasts will be aware of these and many more not mentioned. Please add your favourite spots in the comments section below.
The Hill above the Dutch Reformed Church, Cottesloe
In the wonderful article below, Raymond Smith takes the reader on a journey to six iconic sites in Pretoria: the Union Buildings, Church Square, Unisa, Freedom Park, //hapo Museum and Marabastad.
While browsing through the book Seventy Golden Years (published by the Johannesburg City Council in 1956 to commemorate the city's 70th birthday), I came across a wonderful advert for Stewarts and Lloyds of South Africa. The company proudly announced that the hitching posts it supplied to the fashionable Athenaeum Club in the early 1900s were still in place over fifty years later. This was despite the Athenaeum being demolished and the reality that horses were no longer the major means of transport.
Da Gama Park is a little known, underused and under appreciated Johannesburg park. It is a rare beauty spot because it is located on spectacular open high ground bordering Observatory Extension, Cyrildene and De Wetshof (click here to view on google maps). It has the feeling of open, unfettered common land where your dogs can roam freely across tufty African grass. There are no fences and no playground equipment.
Charles Thrupp arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom in 1882 and made his way to King Williams Town to take up a job with a local wholesaler. As the gold fields of the Rand began to boom, the firm called on Thrupp to open and manage a store in Johannesburg. After a few years of solid trade, the branch hit hard times and had to close its doors in 1892. For most employees this would have meant looking for another job but Thrupp saw Johannesburg's potential and acquired the grocery side of the ailing business.
Johannesburg’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King is an impressive landmark located on the corner of Sarotoga Avenue and End Street in Berea. It was built in the late 1950s when Johannesburg was one of the fastest growing cities in the world and opened in impressive style in 1960. Below are a few edited passages (from an article that appeared in the 1961 edition of South African Panorama) that provide a wonderful description of the architecture and craftsmanship that produced the stirring structure.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.